I am from New Mexico. New Mexico’s culinary traditions have influenced my tastes and my cooking. I love chili peppers, specifically New Mexico chile. I cannot get enough. The Three Sisters of maize, squash, and beans are the foods that make my mouth water.
I grew up helping in the kitchen, most often when my brothers requested I make a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I had the recipe memorized because of the number of times I made it. I had to rescue my brother once from a failed attempt at making cookies when he mistook the salt for sugar.
I grew up with two brothers and I remember sharing meals with them, but not with my parents. The meals we ate while growing up were home-cooked, except for Taco Bell Tuesday and pizza Friday. I remember most the meals cooked by my father. He specialized in skillet broccoli with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. He also invented the Burrito Casserole, and was skilled at making omelets and pancakes. My mother grew up in the south would occasionally make grits and fried okra.
While I lent a hand preparing meals in my teens, I really learned to cook when I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia. Everyday I helped prepare ingredients for lunch and dinner at a school that fed 60+ students and staff. There I learned that every Indonesian dish begins with the following three ingredients—chili, garlic, and shallots. This flavor foundation reminded me, in a way, of the Three Sisters, and how well the flavor trios went together. In Indonesia, we prepared meals communally, which really cut down on the workload.
When I returned to the U.S., my interest in food and cooking persisted. I got my first job in the restaurant industry, but discovered that restaurant work is far from glamorous. It is dangerous work and is extremely hard on the body. The pace of the restaurant kitchen creates a lot of stress, which brings out the worst in people. Luckily, before I left this profession, I had the wonderful opportunity of working with a talented chef in a beautiful kitchen with quality ingredients. It was there I learned more about specific cooking techniques and ingredients. I developed a real love of preparing food and a passion for spending time cooking. I returned to school and studied food studies in Indonesia. I researched Indonesian recipe books, looking inside recipes for examples of local variations of foods that had become part of the national cuisine.
In one of the recipe books I researched, an author wrote that the most important thing he took back from his experience learning to cook in SE Asia was to always use ingredients that were alive. Food is alive when it looks, smells, and feels alive. I judge this by its color, size, and texture. I ask myself, is this celery a brilliant shade of green? Does it smell of celery or something subdued? When I hold it up, are the stalks limp and wilted? When I cook for myself and for sharing, I want to begin with food that is as nutritious as possible. For me this means that it does not travel far or travel out-of-season to get to my market or store. Winter meals can get a little dull, but I am ever more grateful for the summer and all its colorful fruits and vegetables because of the winter soups and stews.
I now live in Clintonville, Columbus. I like buying food at the Clintonville Farmers’ Market in the summer, although sometimes vegetables and fruits are expensive. Last summer I began shopping at the farmers’ market with a friend. Sometimes we cook meals together, that we then share with our spouses or other friends. I really enjoy preparing and cooking food communally because it cuts down on the workload and because it is nice to share the flavors, smells, and textures of a home-cooked meal together. Undoubtedly I learn something new about food or culinary culture when sharing the task of preparing a meal together with someone else. I am not familiar with the culinary traditions of my community here, but by sharing meals with others here, I look forward to learning more about food traditions in Ohio.